The little Shrimp was expected to come on leap day, February 29th. The closer we came to this day, the more I felt we would pass it. Me, my family and friends put down bets on which day would be the day, and I guessed the last date - March 11. I must say I felt surprisingly good despite the given discomfort of lugging around a huge, heavy watermelon and I didn't long for it all to be over in any way. But then again I was very lucky to to have felt pretty good my whole pregnancy.
I may have been a little in denial about the whole thing. This was one day before due date...!
The days passed and there was absolutely no sign of Shrimpy wanting to join the outside world. I half felt like I would be pregnant for the rest of my life. In reality, women in Stockholm are induced after 2 weeks of passing their due dates, which meant I would be induced on the 14th if nothing happened on its own. While we were waiting Simon continued going to the office every day, and I continued sending out orders and working from home. Covid-19 was still a bit surreal, and I remember saying to Simon that I was not going to let myself get worked up or too worried about it, thinking that it would probably be over soon. Oh how terribly wrong I was...
On Monday evening, the 9th, I felt... something. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but something in my body felt a little different, sort of like light menstrual pain. I remember posting a story on Instagram that evening saying exactly that - that maaaybe something was about to happen soonish. That night, I started feeling some slight pains, but I was so clueless that I thought it was.... gases. :D I had to go to the bathroom a couple of times that night, and for the first time during my pregnancy I noticed a little bleeding. I told Simon about it and we decided to call the hospital, just to check with them if they thought I needed to come in. They didn't but said that it could be a sign that it was starting, and that if I was worried I could always come in. I called them twice, just to make sure I shouldn't be worried.
We hardly slept that night and Simon got up really early on the 10th and decided to stay and work from home. My "gas pains" were becoming suspiciously regular, and he realised that most likely I was just too dumb to realise that it could start that day. I stayed in bed because the pains were uncomfortable and I figured I could start packing orders a little later.
Simon had started clocking the pains, and in the back of my mind I think I started realising too. But I was still so sure that since it didn't hurt that bad, and since I had heard that early labour contractions could go on for days, we at least had several hours before we would go in to the hospital. We called the hospital to let them know how things progressed and they told us to call when the contractions were closer together. We also called my dad who had offered to drive us to the hospital, just to let him know that maybe we would require his help that day. I told Simon to start packing my orders, because I myself couldn't get out of bed really. Simon, bless him, bit his tongue (he knew there was no way we were sending orders that day) and just did what I told him. He went back and forth between order forms, supplies, me in the bed so I could double check if he had picked the right colour, all the while clocking my contractions. I just lay in bed in a very good mood (so nice to have someone working for me!) yelling what he should do and going "STARTING!" and then "FINISHED" so he could clock properly. Oh lord...
Suddenly I had the weirdest feeling ever, like a balloon just shot out of me and exploded, and the bed was completely wet. I got really scared and was sure it was blood just because I had been bleeding a little bit during the night. I screamed for Simon to check because I couldn't bring myself to look, and he just said "honey... your water broke now".
From this point on the experience changed completely. The contractions became very close together and they hurt. like. HELL. We called the hospital and they told us to come in, and then called dad who sounded excited and anxious at the same time. I wobbled into the shower and every time I had a contraction I held my breath - the exact opposite of what I had learned and practiced for 9 months... I just could not breathe during the contractions, it hurt even more when I tried and I could have hit Simon when he told me to breathe slowly and hum... Getting ready took forever and in the middle of everything my dad called, hysterical, saying "I'm on my way but apparently 6 tons of oats fell out of a truck and is blocking the highway! I'll be there as fast as I can!". Poor dad...! :D I tried to calm him down saying we were still getting ready.
The ride to the hospital is still a blur. The pain was just crazy and I remember screaming to Simon to take off the headrest so I could lean back with my head over the seat, stretched out like a banana with my belly in the air (did I even put on my seat belt??). When we finally came in to the hospital (at 1.30 pm, one hour after my water broke) I remember seeing the longest corridor in my whole life, and I thought that if my room was at the end of it, I would not make it there. Fortunately my room was the first to the left! I didn't even say hi to the staff that guided us in to the room, Simon led me to the bed and I roared with pain and had my eyes shut. The midwife (the sweetest ever, let's call her M) checked how far along I was, and to all of our surprise I was already 9 cm dilated. "Wow you did a great job at home", she said. In hindsight, I feel like those 9 centimetres opened from when my water broke, and that this was why I was in so much pain.
I was very out of it, just in a bubble of pain, and at some point I also vomited. They offered nitrous oxide, I tried it and got furious because it made everything worse (I couldn't breathe the way you were supposed to). Simon finally asked if an epidural was possible to which I yelled "YES! EPIDURAL!". I myself had completely forgotten about that option. M had to go through the procedure of letting me know that an epidural can slow down the process and other things I had to consider (I was already 10 cm dilated by now), and since I had my eyes closed shut from pain she had to lean in really close to me and tell me to open my eyes to listen to her. Haha seriously, I find this so funny now...
Anyway... I got the epidural and 20 minutes later I felt like I was in heaven. I COULD BREATHE AGAIN!!! I turned to the midwife and the nurse and said "Gosh, I am really sorry. I'm not usually this rude, not even introducing myself...! I am Fanny, what were your names again?". Lol. I updated on Instagram saying that we were now in the hospital and that I would probably not update again for a day or so.
Since everything had gone so fast after my water broke both Simon and I were pretty sure we'd be done in a couple of hours. We asked M if she thought we would be done during her shift and she said it was possible, but definitely not certain. The hours passed, we even had a little nap, and after a check M first said "I believe your baby has a lot of hair" and then "it could be that he is not positioned right, he could be tilted". She had someone come in and do a second opinion and they agreed that the head was tilted. This apparently meant that it could be harder for him to pass through my pelvis, but for me it also meant that he didn't really come down as he should have. She told us to walk up and down the corridor to help things progress, and I was also given oxytocin to accelerate and increase the contractions. She explained that I was only going to get a small dose of oxytocin since there are risks associated with high levels.
At 9:30 in the evening it was time for the new team to come in. Shrimpy had shown some signs of distress so my new midwife A (also such a sweet person!) had me do some pretty advanced aerobics for an hour (lunges, squats, ball bouncing) to help him turn. We had a blast to be honest, put on Queen and danced up and down the corridor, and she told us about different positions we could try once we'd start pushing. She also said that lying in bed on my back wasn't the optimal position, so we would probably not go for that one unless we had to.
Finally and after consultations with other midwifes and a doctor, A said that even though the baby hadn't turned I would have to try pushing. They upped the oxytocin again. It was now after 11 and I sat on a small stool and had Simon behind me, A to my right and the nurse to my left - and then I "pushed". I found it very difficult to understand exactly what I was supposed to do (this can happen with an epidural since you don't feel the same), but apparently I was getting it right after a while and the head did come down, but it then went back up as soon as I stopped pushing. We kept at it for half an hour and then paused, and they increased the oxytocin infusion again. I was exhausted.
We were going to try once more, but at this point the last epidural "top-up" didn't take on my left side, and the pains from the contractions came crushing back, making it nearly impossible for me to push. It just hurt so damn much. I did try for a while but then got another refill of the epidural in bed. Suddenly, I started shaking and shivering - I had gotten a fever (not totally uncommon during labour). Now, a fever isn't necessarily a big deal, but... The very few times I have gotten a fever as an adult, it's like I instantly become a child again. I feel so weak, small and sorry for myself. It just wasn't the best timing! :D I remember noticing Simon getting a little worried at this point, I just couldn't stop shaking. All evening he was an incredible support (truly an understatement), but I could feel him feeling really helpless then. I got another infusion to lower my temperature, and the oxytocin levels were continuously increased. I remember being a little confused when they upped the levels so much despite having told me earlier that high levels weren't great.
It was now midnight and I realised this meant that baby would come on the 11th, just as I had predicted! But we started to get a little bit worried that things weren't progressing the way they "should". I thought to myself: "oh no, what if they need to use a vacuum extractor..?". I'm not sure where my fear of them came from, but at some point I must have read about them and the increased risks for tearing (I have had an intense fear of tearing for ages, and it was my biggest fear during my pregnancy) plus the increased risks for the baby. It worried me and I asked A if she thought it would be necessary. I feel like she deflected the question, probably because she didn't want to worry me.
Still in bed, I now had to try pushing again - in the position they earlier said was not the best and we'd only use if we had to. They did what is called "Mc Roberts manoeuvre" to try and force Shrimpys head out, and pushed my legs up hard while I was pushing - very unpleasant. And it didn't help.
The atmosphere among the staff had changed from calm and relaxed and soothing, to more focused and determined. They said that we would do one last try just me, the midwife, the nurse and Simon, but if it didn't work this time we would need to ask for assistance, because this was not good for the baby, or me. I kept pushing, Shrimpy's head came down, but immediately went back up again after I stopped.
So, in came the doctor who had been consulted a couple of hours back. She examined me and spoke to my midwife and left again, as I remember it she barely even looked me in the eyes but she definitely didn't speak to me other than introducing herself. A told me that I would have 15 minutes to rest and prepare, because after that the doctor would be back to assist with a vacuum extractor. I distinctly remember thinking to myself: "Okay, this is it. Come on, just shape up and give it all now!". But instead of getting energised and excited, I completely broke down. I cried like I was a little girl again. I wanted my mommy, and I felt so extremely sorry for myself (probably had to do with being very tired and still feverish). After 15 minutes of "rest", I was a wreck.
In came what felt like an army: the doctor, another midwife, another nurse and a stand by neonatologist since there was a risk of Shrimpy not getting enough oxygen. Suddenly we were 8 people in this small room with me sobbing and my privates on display. It was clear that the doctor was highest in rank in there, and while my midwife and nurse had been talking kindly and reassuringly to me before, letting me know everything that was going on, they all suddenly stopped to give her room. Unfortunately, she and I really didn't click. I know I was sensitive, but she was very harsh and strict (probably just focused), slapped my legs so I would put them up and got frustrated with me when I couldn't move my right leg (it was numb for some reason). I was told to let them know when I felt a new contraction, and when I did, that's when she started using the vacuum extractor, aka the torture machine.
I don't know how to describe the feeling, other than it felt as though she ripped me apart. It also seriously looked like it, since she was putting all her weight behind the jerking, tugging and pulling. It was the most horrifying pain I have ever felt in my life. I screamed and cried as I tried to push while she said I wasn't pushing hard enough. When the contractions were over and I was supposed to get a break and "relax", she continued slicing me apart with her hands (that's what I thought, of course she wasn't). I screamed from pain again and asked her what the hell she was doing. She didn't reply, just kept doing what she was doing and instructed the midwifes and nurses what to do. At some point, when I had yelled and begged her to stop, I suddenly stopped yelling, I just looked her straight in the eyes.
She knew it, my midwife knew it and Simon knew: I was about to punch her straight. in. the. face.
However, before I had the chance, Simon stepped in and said: "Enough. You can't keep doing this to Fanny without explaining what it is you're doing. She can't cooperate if you're not communicating!". My midwife A jumped a little, and suddenly understood why I was having such a hard time. Since they hadn't explained anything to me, I just thought that this doctor was torturing me for funsies. She started explaining what the doctor was doing and why. For instance, when she was "slicing" me in between contractions, she used her fingers to make sure that no tissue (of mine) was getting stuck or caught in the vacuum extractor (which would have led to tearing). She also explained that the extra amount of pain I was feeling right then was actually the baby's head coming - and that it was completely normal pain that I would have felt with or without the vacuum extractor. That little piece of information changed it all. It was SO much easier to take and accept the pain when I wasn't thinking that someone was trying to rip, tear and slice me open with her bare hands. When I knew it was normal... well it made all the difference. The doctor snuck out (she didn't say bye or anything, probably sensed that I just wanted her out of there anyway, or she was just really busy), and A could take over the last part. I remember it still being extremely painful, but not like a moment ago.
Suddenly, he was there. A little slimy, screaming Shrimpy, our Noah, was put on my belly at 00:49 on March 11 2020, the same day that WHO later declared Covid-19 a pandemic. He had the umbilical cord around his neck, causing Simon to think the worst until he started screaming a second later. I cried like a baby too. We all cried. Of relief, of pain, of shock. Simon later told me he had been absolutely terrified and half convinced that both I and the baby were going to die.
I'd like to take a moment to explain something. The doctor who helped with the vacuum extractor did a fantastic job and I am very thankful for her help. It turns out I didn't tear all too much (I needed a couple of stitches) and in part that was thanks to her expertise. However, I do think she could have done a way better job at communicating with me. Both Simon and I felt truly traumatised afterwards, and it might not have been that way if she had explained, especially to me, what she was doing and why. As it was, I was 100 percent convinced that I was completely destroyed down there, until the next day when a very sweet nurse gave me a mirror to see for myself that this really wasn't true (I cried like a baby for the gazillionth time). I also want to say that I know how extremely privileged I was during my whole hospital stay. I had a midwife with me the whole time, they were incredibly, incredibly sweet and amazing at their jobs. They all made sure that both I and Noah were in safe hands. Finally, I want to explain that my experience with a vacuum extractor is just that, mine. It doesn't mean it has to be that painful for everyone (as a matter of fact, I myself was born with one, and my mother didn't think it was too big of a deal), and I maintain that it wouldn't have been as hard if I had known what I now know about what was going on.
The minutes and hours after Noah was born was a whole mix of emotions, as it is for all new parents. We felt traumatised but happier than we had ever been. In fact, I was much happier for that little new life than I imagined I would be. After Simon cut the umbilical cord, Noah started breast feeding almost instantly, and it was like the best comfort and consolation we could get right then. My midwife, A, gave Simon a massive compliment saying she had rarely seen a partner be such a great support to the birthing mother. She was particularly impressed with the way he had intervened and told the staff to start talking to us instead of just each other. Thinking about this still makes me tear up...
Like I mentioned, I needed a couple of stitches and after having a sandwich we were brought to our room where they would survey us a little more carefully (due to the somewhat difficult labour). The three of us fell hard asleep, Noah between me and Simon, and we both had one finger in his tiny hands.
We started processing our experience by telling our birth story over and over again, first to the nurses that checked on us at the hospital, then to family and friends, until we were no longer crying hard every time we told it and (almost) got sick of hearing it ourselves. We describe it as a roller coaster with a couple of very great highs, and some very hard lows. Now a year later, I can still cry when I talk about that day, but I honestly only see beauty in it. Even if I felt like it was horrible at times, the overall experience was still magical. I really mean that. I mean it so much that I am already looking forward to the next time, if there will be one. :)
It is now a year later and we are so lucky to have had Noah in our lives for a whole year! Born on the day that WHO declared the pandemic, it sure has been a very, very strange year, but thankfully he knows nothing of it and is the happiest little bundle of joy I have ever had the privilege of getting to know....!
Happy birthday my love!!!